(Last Updated On: August 29, 2016)

Why do most road signs and markings designed to help motorists navigate safely, start to fade within months of their construction in India?

National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) Chairman Raghav Chandra has tasked an expert panel to find a lasting solution to this fading paint menace identified as a major cause for the country’s alarmingly high road fatalities.

The options on the table being explored by the committee, that is likely to submit its report by the end of September, include alterations in road building contracts to make builders liable for deterioration in road markings, testing paint quality in real world conditions instead of labs and tougher tests for driving licenses to illuminate motorists about the meaning of road signs.

Faded, jilted

“I have found that the quality of paints that are used in highways abroad is significantly better than that used in India. Our construction firms use weaker or softer options and as a result, within a few months, our markings and paints look absolutely faded and jilted,” Mr Chandra said.

While he urged developers to be conscientious in their implementation of specified standards, the NHAI chief has constituted a committee led by the director of the Indian Academy of Highway Engineers V. L. Patankar to fix outcome-based parameters for paints used on highways.

“That means we will no longer just be looking at the cost of the paint, but also how long the paint should last,” he said. This assumes significance as the NHAI is installing 2,00,000 new road signages across existing national highways over the next few years to improve safety.

Road signages and pavement markings are usually sub-contracted by highway developers to other agencies and are usually the first casualty when funds are tight while implementing a project, the committee’s chairman Mr. Patankar said.

 “Road markings are absolutely critical for safety, but were considered like a dessert when the priority was to have a basic meal (a functional highway). With car speeds going up as well as the rising spectre of fatal accidents, there’s now a realisation that people need good road markings to understand speed limits, lane changing zones and so on,” he said.

Though there are tough material standards prescribed by the Indian Roads Congress on paints, there is usually a gap in the paint material tested and certified by a supplier and what is actually applied on the ground.

Sub-standard paint

“Pavement markings and road signages are supposed to last two to three years, but seldom last more than six months. The paint is tested, but what is actually put on the ground is often not up to the mark. Come rain or shine, from a user’s perspective, the markings should be easily visible even if the reflective capacity varies a bit as per the weather,” Mr. Patankar said.

“As the speed of your car increases on a highway, the field of vision also gets reduced so the reflective capacity of the road signs and markers needs to be higher than what may be needed on bylanes or service lanes,” Mr Patankar said, adding that such norms are a must for all roads, not just highways.

Road building contracts could be tweaked to include an additional defect liability clause that holds the main contractor liable for the quality of paints instead of a sub-contractor who applied the paint.

Monitoring markers

Instead of just specifying the recipe of materials to be used in the paints, the committee is likely to recommend performance standards that would be monitored over a period of time after a project is complete. “The markings should remain prominent for a few years, irrespective of what you put in the paint,” Mr Patankar said.

Changes in the driving license tests are also likely to be proposed so that drivers understand what different signs mean. “It may sound painful to learn what all the myriad road signs actually mean, whether it’s related to lane driving, overtaking zones or bumps ahead, but it is an important part of driving responsibly,” he said.

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